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01 December 2009 @ 02:48 pm
Why do people think it's fun to be pedantic? Can anyone help me understand this?
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kinesthetic chutzpahdilletante on December 1st, 2009 07:52 pm (UTC)
hah! you are totally inviting a pedantic answer. :) you're so generous!

(my guess would be some mix of a) thinking it's genuinely helpful and liking to be helpful, and b) feeling it's a way to show off what one knows, and liking that also?)
veek on December 1st, 2009 07:52 pm (UTC)
My guess is, the line between pedantry and (among other things) wordplay is fuzzy, and some people don't distinguish that much between them.
D. Fennelfennel on December 1st, 2009 07:59 pm (UTC)
I was trying to think of this, and couldn't put it so succinctly. (And I've sometimes made puns that were incomprehensible because they were too oblique, and had person I was talking to assume I was being pedantic about something.)
Beowabbit: Me: brain MRIbeowabbit on December 1st, 2009 08:38 pm (UTC)
Yes, exactly. Basically, it’s a game. If two people who both enjoy the game are playing it, good for them. The problem is when one person enjoys the game and the other one doesn’t, or when one person doesn’t realize there’s a game.

(At least, that’s one possible case. There are certainly also people who are cognitively limited in ways that prevent them from realizing that the fact that Darfur is spelled Darfur is actually much less important than the content of what people are saying about Darfore. But I don’t think that’s the case for most pedants.)
Spikespike on December 1st, 2009 07:56 pm (UTC)
Talking about details in lieu of content passes for conversation in the conversationally-impaired. Makes people who mistakenly believe there's some kind of "meritocracy of precision" feel like they are "doing better".
Blue Gargantuabluegargantua on December 1st, 2009 08:05 pm (UTC)

I have a great deal of information on pedantry and how to make it fun for all involved...IN MY PANTS!

(well, technically they're jeans as opposed to pants which usually has the connotation of slacks or non-denim pants...)
blk: rangeblk on December 1st, 2009 08:06 pm (UTC)
I have a fondness, at times perhaps almost a fetish, for preciseness and detail. I notice shades of meaning in words, in phrasing, in punctuation that others may not, and while sometimes I can ignore the twisting possible paths of the verbal landscape and just focus on the intended destination, sometimes I am drawn strongly to explore it, to find the absurd, to catch someone off balance, and to just keep my brain running.

Additionally, as Charles Moore has said, part of the fun of being a pedant is to bring out the pedantry in others. Twisting words with someone who can shape them and toss them back is far, far more fun than just playing by myself or irritating people.
sarahshevettsarahshevett on December 1st, 2009 08:07 pm (UTC)
can't help it
Sometimes it's just a symptom; like a chronic proofreader.

Misspelled words stab me even when I'm driving by at 60 mph.
It's all in the details anyway.

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ruthless compassion: martini handsaroraborealis on December 1st, 2009 08:10 pm (UTC)
Pedantry is what happens when you lose sight of which issues are little details for your audience, and which are major landmarks.

This is very insightful.
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(no subject) - sparkymonster on December 1st, 2009 09:30 pm (UTC) (Expand)
unintentionally intimidatingcoraline on December 1st, 2009 08:40 pm (UTC)
good point.
also, it scratches the same itch as proofreading and grammar picking. but conversationally people lose track of when it's appropriate to poke at these things and when it's not.
That Chick with the Evil Laughsparkymonster on December 1st, 2009 09:29 pm (UTC)
Pedantry is what happens when you lose sight of which issues are little details for your audience, and which are major landmarks.

yes yes!

ps. YES

I love talking about certain types of small details. I enjoy dissecting all kinds of pop culture. However, if I'm talking about how the girlfriends of superheroes keep on being brutalized, someone deciding to talk about which issue of "Green Lantern" a particular attack happened in is derailing up a storm.
Boring Nerdsignsoflife on December 1st, 2009 10:03 pm (UTC)
I cannot adequately express how well put this is.

You have obviated any need for me to respond.
Boring Nerdsignsoflife on December 2nd, 2009 05:05 pm (UTC)
It can also be difficult to communicate that what appears to be a small detail *is* a large detail, if one raises it at the wrong time in a conversation.
harimad on December 1st, 2009 08:19 pm (UTC)
If your group of pendants is like the people I know, I think it's a combination of two things.

1. A delight in wordplay, which can shade into pendantry by design or by accident.

2. Being part of a group that values knowledge. Pendantry involves being (excruciatingly) exact and knowledgeable about something.

It's interesting (to me) that you bring this up now. I've become frustrated with how being overly exact moves the focus away from the important part of the conversation or even derails them entirely. I've moved from being appreciative of exact knowledge to wondering if the person I'm talking to is paying attention to the whole of what I'm saying or if I'll ever be allowed to get to my point.
born from jets!!!: catVcatness on December 1st, 2009 08:23 pm (UTC)
I think for some people, it's a way to prove themselves as knowledgeable. And that is very important to them identity-wise, if they operate in a community that values and respects intelligence.

For others, it's probably exemplified in other comments in this thread. (I know that my father and at least one of my materials engineer friends has the situation qwrrty describes.)
jimlxuth on December 1st, 2009 08:34 pm (UTC)
I note that you specifically ask why people think it's fun to be pedantic. And in response to that specifically, it is not unlike other word play (puns for example). As blk suggested, this is most fun (for me anyway) with other people who share this idiosyncrasy.

But I'm guessing that you're also asking why people are otherwise pedantic even when it's not fun for all involved. I've often been accused of being intentionally pedantic when that is in no way the case. The basics of this often boil down to either of the following: I can see multiple interpretations of something that someone has said to me and I ask for clarification. Or I can see multiple interpretations of something I'm trying to say and do my best to clarify it. For the latter, many people believe that I should be able to determine from context what is intended, but often times I genuinely can not. It's probably a deficiency in me that I'm missing other contextual clues. But I've gotten beaten down so often for asking for disambiguation that at this point I'm often willing to go without the information than to ask for clarification any more.
JBjbsegal on December 1st, 2009 09:28 pm (UTC)
Yeah, this all strikes me as right: playing with meaning and intent and definition is, in itself, fun for me; figuring out what people REALLY MEAN is important for me, and is often unclear.

To me, dismissing something as 'mere pedantry' is (much of the time - sometimes I _am_ just playing, but I hope it's obvious when I am.) is as similarly inappropriate to my worldview as arguing that a difference in usage is 'just semantics', as 'semantics' is (to quote wikipedia) the study of meaning... You know... I sense a post coming on.
redjoredjo on December 1st, 2009 09:22 pm (UTC)
It can be a power play. If I focus on details to the extent that the spirit of the conversation is lost, then I can reframe the conversation to one I'm more comfortable with, or one I can "win." (See "derailing.")
Kcatkcatalyst on December 1st, 2009 10:04 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't know, because I am never pedantic. I do sometimes enjoy knowing things out loud, though, which sometimes, in someone else entirely, someone less awesome than me, can be taken for pedantry.
Kcatkcatalyst on December 1st, 2009 10:05 pm (UTC)
Also, this is way, WAY better than your other trick about pedantry.
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Kcatkcatalyst on December 2nd, 2009 07:36 pm (UTC)
Exactly! One of the great joys of my profession is that I get paid to know things out loud. One of its problems is that so is everyone else I work with. :-)
David Policardpolicar on December 1st, 2009 10:05 pm (UTC)
Nothing new to add; I agree with much of what has been said in comments.
I'm curious about your feelings about pedantry, though, and what inspired you to ask the question.
sarahshevettsarahshevett on December 1st, 2009 10:23 pm (UTC)
Fact checkers
..and certainly there is a VERY VERY FINE LINE ( if there is a line at all) between being slightly mistaken and being completely wrong.
Doug Orleansdougo on December 1st, 2009 11:40 pm (UTC)
It's not fun at all. It's a grim, eternal war against the forces of ignorance, apathy, confusion, decay, dissolution, and chaos.
Chip: faceceo on December 2nd, 2009 03:25 am (UTC)
Sing it, brother. :-)
Chipceo on December 2nd, 2009 03:24 am (UTC)
I could probably be justifiably be accused of pedantry on occasion, and sometimes it's skirting the edges of wordplay, and sometimes it's failing to control my unfortunate proclivity for poking at people.

But, it's also been observed that there's a certain aspect of the sort of people often described as "geeks", which is, placing a high value on precision and clarity of expression. It is of course of utmost importance when trying to get the computer to do what you want, as opposed to what you might otherwise say, and I personally suspect it's simply a way some people's brains are wired. It can of course cause problems in interpersonal relationships, not solely because pedantry is annoying, but because complicated emotions are hard to express with the kind of precision and clarity one might prefer. DAMHIKT.

It also tends to make one particularly sensitive to alternative (and possibly nonsensical) interpretations of what someone else is saying, and sometimes those interpretations are hysterically funny only to people with this particular sort of wiring, and not always even then. :-/
drwexdrwex on December 2nd, 2009 07:09 pm (UTC)
I agree, and a personal bit
I agree with the learned commenters before me and have only my personal perspective to add:

The area of pedantry, and the ability to distinguish when one person in the conversation is having fun and other(s) are not, is an area where I fall down a lot. Like blk I delight in word play and nuances of meaning. I was also raised by a mother who made her living as a biomedical editor, so precision in meaning was a Big Freaking Deal around my childhood house.

That Big Deal was reinforced by a rigid academic system where getting precisely the right answer was rewarded and being even a little bit off meant loss of points or even loss of all credit. I vividly remember being reduced to tears on getting the results of an exam in school where I wrote (12") instead of (12') and lost all credit for the answer, despite showing my work and it being clear to all that the extra tick mark was just a slip of a hurried pencil.

Carry that through the verbal and mental point-scoring joust of graduate education and I feel like I've spent the majority of my life in situations that rewarded pedantic levels of precision and penalized me otherwise. Thus I blunder blindly in social situations where that training is, at best, irrelevant.